MANILA, Philippines - A scientists' group Agham has condemned the killing of distinguished ethno-botanist Leonardo Co and two of his assistants and called for an independent civilian investigation into the incident.
Co and 4 companions were conducting research work for the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) in Upper Mahiao, Lim-ao, Kananga Leyte when they were allegedly caught in the crossfire between an Army patrol and New People's Army (NPA) guerrillas last Monday.
However, Agham chairperson Giovanni Tapang said the statements of the survivors lead them to believe that no exchange of gunfire took place. Given the vantage point and prior information of the soldiers, Tapang thinks the killing resulted from the indiscriminate firing of troops without any verification of their targets.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has insisted that a legitimate encounter with the NPA took place. Lt. Col Federico Tutaan, commanding officer of the 19th Infantry Batallion operating in Kananga Leyte, also said that the rebels fired the first shot.
International Humanitarian Law (IHL) states that all parties to a conflict must ensure at all times that civilians are protected. This includes the responsibility to distinguish between combatants and civilians.
Republic Act 9851 or the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity, which took effect this year, penalizes violations of IHL.
Agham hailed Co as one of a few remaining high-caliber taxonomists in the Philippines.
"The loss of a scientist like Leonard Co, who has stayed in the country despite other opportunities abroad, is saddening, but the circumstances of his death makes it doubly worse," said Tapang.